The Sweetest Days by Seema

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Disclaimers: Most of the nouns belong to Paramount; the verbs, adjectives and adverbs are mine.

Author's Notes: Yet another entry in the "Glory Days" universe. This one takes place immediately after the events in Rocky's "Hero." The other stories in the "Glory Days" universe can be found here.

Many thanks to Rocky for the beta.


The house was dark when Tom Paris disembarked from the cab. He glanced up at the second floor bay window, hoping to see a light. But it was well after 0200 hours; B'Elanna surely must have called it a night by now.

"Thanks." Tom handed the cab driver some credits to cover the trip from the San Francisco's main shuttlebay to the house, plus a little extra for the tip. "Is that enough?" The cab trip itself had only taken a few minutes from door to door; if it hadn't been for the late hour, Tom would have chosen to walk.

The cab driver nodded. "Have a good night, sir."

Tom turned and walked up the five stairs leading to the bright red door. He hadn't been particularly fond of that color when he, B'Elanna and Miral had first moved into the townhouse four years ago, but Miral had been captivated by it and so he had never repainted it. Quickly, Tom tapped in his entry code and the door clicked open. Inside, he dropped his duffle bag on the floor as he shrugged out of his jacket.

"Computer, lights, dim," he said softly. Several of the recessed ceiling lights turned on, illuminating his path. As Tom stumbled past the living room, he was grateful he hadn't tried to make his way in the dark; the children's toys littered the floor. He could see that someone - B'Elanna most probably - had made a half-hearted effort to put most of the toys into the wooden box bought specifically for that purpose. No doubt, one of the children had managed to yank some of the toys out again when B'Elanna's back was turned.

As he headed into the kitchen for a glass of water, he could see that the dining room table was spread with PADDs and tablets of paper. Lately, B'Elanna had taken to doing many of her calculations the old-fashioned way. She preferred it, she had said when questioned, because it was the best way for her to arrange her thoughts when working through complex engineering problems.

Tom helped himself to a glass of water and then picked up a PADD that had been mistakenly left by the sink; the display revealed cartoon figures of dinosaurs with brief, one-syllabic blurbs below. No doubt Miral's latest dinnertime reading, Tom thought as he replaced his glass in the sink. As he turned to check the newest drawings posted on the fridge, his foot hit a metallic object.

"Ouch!" He leaned down to pick up a bright red old-fashioned fire engine that had once belonged to Miral but these days, Joey had confiscated it for his own use. Shaking his head, Tom put the fire engine on the kitchen counter.

He went back into the living room and grabbed his duffle bag; chances were, with the way schedules were these days, it would remain there on the floor along with the toys for at least a week before someone felt the need to move it. Not for the first time, Tom wondered when he and B'Elanna had gotten so busy.

When he had first transferred from the flight school at Miramar to the San Francisco campus, he had thought that the move would mean more time with B'Elanna and Miral, and later, baby Joey. But instead, he found himself constantly on the move, whether it was taking his students out on flight runs near Mars or his own self-development courses that were required by Starfleet Academy for all of its instructors. Somehow, those courses were never offered in San Francisco or even on Earth. Invariably, he headed off to some distant world or starbase for the additional training. It wouldn't be so bad if he could take the family with him, but B'Elanna was neck-deep with work on the new Mars starship prototype and couldn't get the time off. The Starfleet Corps of Engineers was currently working 24/7 with no respite in sight, thanks to the brewing conflict in the Neutral Zone.

This latest trip had been for flight training on Riga III and while it had been fun flying the latest 'toys' in Starfleet's arsenal, Tom had been keenly aware that his reflexes were not as quick as some of the younger pilots, that his instinct to take risks had been dulled by domesticity and responsibility. By far, Tom had been one of the oldest pilots in the group and at first, some of the young hotshots had looked at him derisively, bestowing upon him a rather unflattering nickname. Tom had heard a couple of them wondering out-loud whether "Pops" could keep up and Tom was pleased that not only had he kept up, he also had a few moves he passed on to the younger generation.

Tom made his way up the stairs quietly. The first door he passed on his right led into Miral's bedroom. He peeked in, smiling to himself as he watched his little girl sleeping. She was nestled beneath her pink comforter, surrounded by various stuffed animals; Tom wondered how there was even room for Miral on the bed, given the amount of toys she had chosen to take to sleep with her. He carefully picked his way through the dolls and coloring books scattered on the floor to lean over Miral to give her a light kiss on the cheek. On his way out, Tom nearly tripped over yet another toy. He groaned under his breath as he leaned against the wall for support. The great toy clean up would begin in the morning, he decided as he hobbled back out into the hall.

"Stop right there." B'Elanna's voice was firm and calm.

"It's me, B'Elanna," Tom said wearily. "Computer, lights."

The lights flashed on, revealing B'Elanna standing at the end of the hall, a bathrobe over her nightgown and a ceremonial bat'leth in hand.

"Tom?" she asked in a voice that was a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion. Her hair was slightly mussed and her eyes had that familiar sleepy look in them. "What are you doing here?"

"Last I checked, I lived here," Tom said. He eyed the bat'leth in her hand. "How about putting that down so I can show you just how glad I am to be home?"

B'Elanna obliged as Tom met her halfway. He pressed his lips to hers, to her cheek, and neck.

"I've missed you," he breathed, his hand gently cupping the left side of her jaw. B'Elanna stepped back, amused.
"You were only gone for a week and we talked every day."

"It seemed like an eternity," Tom said. "Do you know what it's like to spend seven days with those kids?" He shook his head, remembering some of the young, cocky pilots who had been in the flight school with him. Just fresh out of the Academy, fired up with determination born during the Dominion War, these 'kids' reminded Tom what he'd been like at that age. He had joined some of them one night at the only bar on the starbase, but the conversation - mostly revolving around sexual exploits and exaggerated tales of bravado - had only served to remind Tom how far removed he was from that part of his life.

B'Elanna hooked her arm through his. "No, but I'm sure you'll tell me. It can't be any worse than the zoo we have here."

Tom twisted slightly to plant a light kiss on the top of her head. "I love this zoo, B'Elanna. Trust me. It's better here."

B'Elanna shook her head. "You wouldn't say that if you'd been here this week. It's been absolutely crazy. *Your* children have been running me ragged this week."

"What about Jennifer?" Tom asked, referring to the nanny who took care of the kids during the day while they were at work. "You could have asked her to stay late the whole week and help with dinner and the other chores."

B'Elanna shook her head and Tom knew immediately that that had been the wrong thing to say. As it was, B'Elanna hated that her job with the Starfleet Corps of Engineers pulled her away from the family for long hours and even when she did manage to break off early, she had to bring additional work with her to keep up with the frenetic pace.

"No," B'Elanna said. "I can do it, Tom."

"I know you can, but you do look tired." Tom stared at his wife critically, taking in every detail. It amazed him, even after nine years together, just how wonderful it was to come home to this woman. The pre-Voyager Tom Paris wouldn't have even considered a life of monogamy; marriage had seemed nothing less than monotonous in those days. "What did they do that was so horrible?"

"Miral decided she wanted to be a zebra," B'Elanna said. "So she drew black stripes across her arms, legs, and stomach with permanent black marker. Don't be surprised when you see her in the morning. It'll probably be a few more days before it all comes off."

"A zebra?" Tom grinned. "That sounds pretty mild."

B'Elanna glared at him. "And this evening, your son decided that he wanted to go outside after dinner. Somehow, he managed to slip out the backdoor. I was absolutely furious by the time I found him."

"Didn't you lock the door?"

"I did, but I think he figured out the doorcode from me. You know how he watches everything we do and when I was trying to get the marker stains off Miral, he must have climbed up on the table to reach the door keypad." B'Elanna sighed. "Anyway, I found him in the carport, trying to open the flitter door, but he couldn't reach the handle. He screamed all the way back into the house." She smiled. "I think we have a flyboy in the making."

"Sounds like you had it rough," Tom said sympathetically. "I'm here now so you're no longer outnumbered, and then this weekend, we'll leave the kids at my parents' and we'll go out to Yosemite or Lake Tahoe. How does that sound?" He kissed her cheek again, his arms wrapping around her. "Just the two of us." His lips made their way down her jaw, her neck...

"Mmm... sounds wonderful," B'Elanna murmured against his cheek. "But hold that thought. I've got Joey in the bedroom with me."

"Problems?" Tom asked in concern as he pulled away.

"Just the usual. He and Miral were at it all day and then he got so wound up, he refused to go to sleep." B'Elanna ran a hand through her hair. "I know it's a horrible precedent, but I was absolutely at my wit's end. So I brought him into our bed. That seemed to calm him down." B'Elanna smiled at Tom. "I think he missed you. They both did." She took Tom by the hand and led him into the bedroom. "Look at him. Doesn't he look deceptively peaceful?"

Tom had to admit that in sleep, his son looked angelic. Dark curls flopped against his ridged forehead and his long lashes were highlighted against his soft pale skin. Joey was dressed in a blue sleeper with feet, one chubby fist in his mouth, the other on his stomach.

"I'll put him back in his crib," Tom said softly. He lifted Joey up carefully and the baby stirred slightly, his eyes opening to narrow slits.

"Daddy?" Joey muttered before settling into his father's arms, his eyes closing sleepily.

"Come on, Sport. Time to sleep in your own bed," Tom said. "I'll be back in a minute, B'Elanna."

They had moved the rocking chair Tom had replicated for B'Elanna after Miral's birth into Joey's room and Tom settled down for a few minutes to spend some quality time with his son. He loved the feeling of a baby in his arms. At fifteen months, Joey was generally a happy baby, prone to fits of laughter. He clearly adored his sister and it frustrated him to no end that he couldn't manage to do some of the same things Miral could. Tom tightened his arms around the baby; he had everything he needed right here, he thought as he rocked back and forth. Finally, Tom felt it was safe to put the baby into the crib.

When he returned to the bedroom, he found that B'Elanna had already dumped his clothes into the recycler.

"I could have done that," Tom said reproachfully. "You should get some rest. I was really hoping to slip in and not wake you."

B'Elanna glared at him. "Then you shouldn't have stomped down the hall like a herd of targs." Her lips turned up at the corners. "But I would have hoped you'd wake me up anyway." She shoved the empty duffle bag into the closet and then reclaimed the bat'leth from the hall. "You should have called to let me know you'd changed your plans to come today instead of tomorrow evening. I would have met you at the station."

"Sorry," Tom said. He watched as B'Elanna carefully replaced the bat'leth on the wall facing their bed. This was the same bat'leth that Kohlar had gifted to them before Miral's birth and their little girl never tired of the story of how her father had fought not only for her mother's honor, but for hers as well. "I decided to leave the flight training right after the last session and I was on stand-by for the entire trip. I had no idea what time I'd get here. And by the time I reached Utopia Planetia, I knew it would be too late for you to come out with the kids."

"You must have been really eager to get home if you took the chance to come stand-by," B'Elanna said, referring to the long waits and complicated routings that usually ensued when one decided to travel standby. She wrapped her arms around Tom. "Tell the truth, are you happy to be home or would you rather have spent more time with your fellow flyboys on Riga?"

Tom laughed. "No, I am happy," he said. "I thought I would go crazy if I had to spend another day on Riga. Not only was the food bad, but the instructors were nothing to write home about." His lips curved up as he eyed B'Elanna lasciviously. "And the company wasn't so hot either." He leaned in for another kiss. She returned his kiss with equal intensity until Tom gently but reluctantly disengaged from her embrace; after hours of traveling in crowded transports, he desperately needed a shower. "So all in all, home never seemed sweeter than it does at this very moment."

"The training sessions went that well, huh?" B'Elanna asked. She followed Tom into the bathroom, sitting down on the edge of the tub to watch as he brushed his teeth. "I did notice that you were curiously tight-lipped about the classes when we talked."

"It was all right. The usual brush-up on the latest equipment, the standard flight formations and drilling in the offensive and defensive combat maneuvers," Tom said. He quickly stripped down to boxer shorts and then grabbed a towel from the linen closet. "A lot of brilliance and talent." He stared at himself critically in the bathroom mirror, observing the new lines at the corner of his eyes. With a sigh, he ran his fingers along his hairline, noting the newest strands of gray just above his right temple. Yet another reminder that he was no longer young, a feeling that had been reinforced at the training camp. However, he was pleased to note as he surveyed himself in the mirror in a rare moment of arrogance, that he had still managed to maintain good muscle tone. "Most of them are fresh out of the Academy with grandiose plans, just itching for action. There was a lot of tough talk about the current situation with the Romulans and I didn't have much to contribute in that area. Not to mention, most of them have only been out of the Academy for a couple years, I really didn't have a lot in common with them so in the end, I didn't spend much time with them outside of the regular training sessions."

"Tell me you didn't stay in your quarters when you weren't in front of a navigation console," B'Elanna said as she got up to let Tom have access to the shower.

"Computer, run shower water at 40 degrees Celsius, full pressure," Tom requested. He stepped into the shower, loving the feel of water against his skin. The showers on Riga had had weak pressure at best and after seven years of sonic showers on Voyager, Tom truly appreciated water for the indulgence that it was. "In answer to your question, B'Elanna, I did go out with the guys one evening and realized that I would be happier in my quarters. Besides, it gave me some time to catch up on reading the latest trade publications. There was a nice article on the Mars, by the way." The Mars was the new starship design B'Elanna was working on. The sleek vessels were designed specifically for combat and would carry a crew complement of nearly 100. "The reviewer gave a glowing account of the new shield harmonics. Said it was one of the most beautifully designed ships ever and a worthy successor to the Defiant class."

"I could have told you that," B'Elanna said, a trace of arrogance slipping into her voice. She leaned back against the marble counter top, her arms crossed against her chest. "Did you meet anyone while you were there?"

"B'Elanna," Tom groaned. B'Elanna had never been the jealous type when it came to other women, saving that particular emotion for other hobbies of his, such as the holodeck or flying. "No." He turned off the water. "I can't believe you'd even ask such a question."

"I meant someone like Harry or Chakotay. Someone from *Voyager* since you have such a knack of running into people," B'Elanna said. She grinned as Tom emerged from the shower. Playfully, she tossed his towel at him and he caught it in his left hand. "Or is there someone else I should know about?"

Tom laughed, relieved. In a previous trip to Starbase Four, to attend a science conference, he had run into Chakotay on the way over and then had met Harry at the actual conference. B'Elanna had been envious, to say the very least. It had been just over a year since she'd seen Harry and several more since she had spent time with Chakotay. While both men had recently made promises to stop by, neither one had actually carried through.

On the other hand, B'Elanna had spent a night at Tuvok's home on Vulcan and she had told Tom that anxious as she had been about spending time with Tuvok, she'd found the visit a surprisingly calming experience. She'd even gone so far as to suggest that Tom make the trip out to Vulcan one day to spend time with Tuvok; so far, Tom hadn't found the time to do so, but the idea actually did appeal to him.

"No, not this time but I did get a call from Harry while I was on Riga," Tom said as he put on a blue t-short and shorts in preparation for bed. "Apparently, Janeway has been on board on his ship, the Livingston, trying to negotiate a cease-fire with the Ponzi. She's been there for two weeks already."

"How is the Admiral doing? I feel like it's been so long since we've seen or talked to her," B'Elanna said as she discarded her robe on the back of a chair; it slid off and pooled in a pile of white terrycloth on the floor. "She keeps inviting us down to her new place in Monterey but she's never around long enough for us to actually visit for the weekend." She slipped under the covers, rolling onto her side to make room for Tom.

"Harry says he hasn't seen much of Janeway since the day she came aboard," Tom said. He took one last look in the mirror before joining B'Elanna. "According to Harry, she occasionally attends the morning senior staff briefings, but for the most part, spends the day in meetings with the various delegates." Tom remembered how Harry had voiced a concern over whether Janeway was getting enough rest, that the few times he'd seen her, she'd looked tired but determined. At one point in their conversation, Harry had wondered aloud whether the vaunted 'Janeway magic' would work this time. Of course the fact that Janeway would push herself to the brink of exhaustion to hammer out a peace treaty didn't surprise Tom; he'd seen that behavior from her more times than he could count while they were in the Delta Quadrant. "But treaties like this aren't made over night and Janeway must have known that going in," Tom continued. "Think how long the Livingston has been out there trying to broker some kind of agreement so obviously there's a lot of ground to cover."

"Some people at work mentioned the other day that this was a last-ditch attempt at peace for the simple reason that the Romulans are getting fed up with Starfleet," B'Elanna said, as she shifted beneath the covers, trying to get comfortable. "The Ponzi have been raiding settlements on both sides of the Neutral Zone and the Romulans claim that they have been patient long enough. The sentiment is that it won't be long before the Romulans take matters into their own hands. As it is, they haven't been happy with the Federation for the last couple years." B'Elanna turned her head slightly to look at Tom. "It's always been an uneasy alliance at best and I have no doubt that the Romulans are just looking for any excuse to cross over the Neutral Zone."

"They're not the only ones spoiling for a fight." Tom remembered that some of the younger pilots at the training school were actually advocating a confrontation with the Romulans; they wanted to put their skills to use. These were young men and women who had come of age at the end of the Dominion War and now they wanted a greater challenge than carefully scripted simulations or war games. Tom had had to bite his tongue to avoid sharing his personal 'war stories' with them. Given the age difference, Tom hadn't wanted to come across as preachy, but at the same time, he'd been very tempted to point out that war wasn't glamorous, that lives were irrevocably changed, leaving scars that would never completely heal. The reality of war, however, was not one that could be explained; it could only be experienced for the true horror to be known. "You should have seen how eager the pilots at flight school were."

"Well, they might get their wish. If the diplomatic efforts fail, it will be war," B'Elanna said. She propped herself up on one arm so that she was facing Tom. "And you know that the Romulans can almost match the Federation in terms of firepower, given that the post-war Federation reconstruction continues to this day. Starfleet simply doesn't have the battleships it had before the Dominion War. And given that the Romulans entered the Dominion War far later in the conflict, they didn't suffer as many casualties as the Federation did, and so now they outnumber us in terms of trained personnel."

"In other words, you're throwing the battle to the Romulans already," Tom said. He frowned. "I don't think I like the sound of that, B'Elanna."

"Nor do I, given that *my* ships will be among the first on the front lines."

"Do you *really* think there will be a war?" Tom asked. While he had kept up with the headlines during his time on Riga, he had been far too occupied with other matters to really absorb the latest developments. His conversation with Harry had covered the Neutral Zone conflict in only the broadest of strokes, namely in reference to Admiral Janeway, and the two men had kept mostly to personal topics.

"Kahless, I hope not. I honestly don't know, but I have confidence in Admiral Janeway," B'Elanna said with a slight smile. "But I have to consider the possibility, that despite her best efforts, there could be another war. The talking heads on the Federation News Service have different theories as to the scope of the conflict, if it should happen, but the Dominion War clearly proved that these wars are never localized to one region of space."

Tom looked at B'Elanna, seeing the anxiety in her eyes. "It won't come to that. Admiral Janeway won't let it," he said confidently, recalling that this wasn't the first time that they had put their lives into Kathryn Janeway's hands.

"I know, I know." B'Elanna put her hand on Tom's chest. "But what if, Tom? We've got to start thinking now, planning for that possibility."

"Hey, you sound like the war is going to happen tomorrow and that we'll be on the front line. This isn't Voyager, B'Elanna," Tom said softly. "If there is a war, there's no doubt we have skills we can contribute to the effort, but we won't be on the front line. Not this time."

"Well, given that San Francisco was actually a target during the Dominion War, I wouldn't be so confident of that. The reconstruction makes it possible to forget that the Breen launched an attack here, but you know just as well as I do that there are no safe places when it comes to a war." B'Elanna took a deep breath. "I can't go to Yosemite or Lake Tahoe with you this weekend, Tom, as much as I'd like to. We're on 24-hour call because Starfleet has ordered that the Mars-class ships be ready for launch in two weeks. We're talking a complete ramp-up here."

Tom let out a low whistle. "That's quick. Are you going to make that deadline?"

B'Elanna nodded. "We've been working around the clock and the only reason I'm not at the lab now is because you were away and I wanted to be home with the kids. But I'm afraid that the killer schedule will have to resume again starting tomorrow." She made a face. "Not being ready is *not* an option, as per the latest order from Starfleet Command. If hostilities do actually break out, it's a safe bet that the three new Mars-class ships that have already been completed will be among the first dispatched to the front lines. They're the best and newest ships in the fleet right now. But it also means that my team is going to have to work straight through until all three of the ships have been completely outfitted and then, we'll be onboard when the ships makes their first mini-shakedown cruise."

Tom stared at B'Elanna. "That's second thing you've said tonight I'm not sure I like the sound of."

"Don't worry, the ship is perfectly safe. It's been taken out twice already for short jaunts to Jupiter and back." She smiled and Tom got the feeling that she was deliberately sidestepping his real concern. "In a way, this ship is much safer than Voyager ever was after we'd have a run-in or two with the Kazon or the Borg." Humor underlined B'Elanna's tone, but Tom couldn't help but pick up on the ominous meaning behind her words.

"A trial launch is not what I'm worrying about," Tom said sharply. "There is no way Starfleet will be able to train enough engineers to keep those ships running at maximum efficiency if a war breaks out within the next couple of weeks. Will they want you to be onboard *if* the ships are actually sent into battle?"

"I don't know, Tom. It's a good possibility. The team has already been split into three units for that very reason." B'Elanna took a deep breath. "And I'm leading the Beta team. Which means, if the orders come, we'll be assigned to the Minuteman, which is what the prototype I'm working on will be commissioned as."

"And you were going to tell me this *when*?" Tom stared at her.

B'Elanna sighed. "I'm sorry, Tom. I only found out two days ago and I didn't want to tell you over the comm. I thought it would be better if we actually sat down to talk about it. Besides, I needed to get used to the idea myself." B'Elanna rested her hand on Tom's chest. "I wasn't trying to keep this from you. I just wanted to be sure of what was going on."

"So, if the Romulans officially cross the Neutral Zone, we're technically at war," Tom said slowly, "and Starfleet has already ordered the ship *you* have been working on for the last five years to the frontlines. And you right along with it."

"That's a pretty good synopsis of the current situation," B'Elanna said wryly. "And don't forget, there's a good possibility that they may call up reserve pilots like you." B'Elanna's voice was soft. "Like I was saying, we have to face the reality of what might happen."

Tom pulled B'Elanna towards him so that her head was resting on his chest. "And here I thought life after Voyager was going to be dull."

"I wish," B'Elanna said. She cuddled closer, her arm around Tom's chest. "I had lunch with your father yesterday and he seemed pretty calm. He really believes Janeway can pull off another diplomatic coup. I believe his exact words were along the lines of 'If Kathryn can't do it, no one can.' That's a pretty strong endorsement, Tom."

Tom nodded. His father had been a huge advocate of sending Janeway to the Neutral Zone to try her hand, for a very simple reason: Janeway was nothing if not tenacious. When it came to making alliances and treaties honed by her years in the Delta Quadrant, she was second to none. Of course, circumstances there had often left her no other choice but to practice some of her famed 'saber rattling.' Now the question was whether or not it was good enough to keep the Romulans on their side of the Neutral Zone. As it was, there had been several reports of skirmishes in the last few days. Harry had been cagey about the details, but some of his guarded comments had led Tom to believe that the Livingston had been involved. It was also common knowledge that both Starfleet and the Romulans were already massing ships along their respective sides of the Neutral Zone.

"Unfortunately though, Janeway isn't the only one involved in these negotiations, even if she's leading up the delegation," Tom said. He sighed, thinking of the consequences of failure. "If there's a war, then patriotism dictates that I ought to reenlist, see if I can't get a posting on the frontline. If things do heat up, Starfleet will need its best pilots out there..." his voice drifted off, as he thought of the young hotshots full of bravado. They were good, he knew, but real combat experience had made Tom Paris better. Real wars didn't follow the careful guidelines of simulations and Tom's experience in the DQ had honed his anticipation and instinctively, he knew what maneuvers would work and what wouldn't. These kinds of skills couldn't be taught in a classroom.

"No, I agree. I can't see you staying home while the rest of us get to go play with the Romulans," B'Elanna said softly.

"I know what we've said in the past, about one of us staying with the kids, but if war does break out, we're going to have to reconsider. Starfleet isn't going to excuse one of their best engineers just when things get interesting, and frankly, I don't think I could just sit on the sidelines during any hostilities." He quirked a grin. "It could be like old times again. You in Engineering, me at the helm."

"If hostilities do break out," B'Elanna said, "we shouldn't be on the same ship."

"So much for nostalgia," Tom said with a hint of sadness. He and B'Elanna had made a wonderful team on Voyager, their skills complementing each other perfectly. But he also knew that they had other responsibilities now. If it did come to war, they would have to leave the children with his parents and Tom wasn't quite sure how he would explain war to Miral in the first place. His daughter would not understand how the intricacies of a conflict that Tom himself was still having trouble comprehending.

They were quiet for a moment and Tom had no doubt that B'Elanna was envisioning sitting down with their children as well to explain why she had to leave. He crossed his fingers. B'Elanna saw the movement.

"That's going to be the hardest part," she said. "Being apart, and not knowing. The uncertainty of it all. In the DQ, I'd gotten use to the idea of raising Miral on Voyager because we had no other choice."

*Not* having Miral hadn't been a choice for them. Tom barely remembered discussing whether the pregnancy was even a good idea after they had gotten over the initial surprise; if Samantha Wildman could safely raise a child on Voyager, why couldn't they? He and B'Elanna had also been apprehensive of their chances at having another opportunity; the odds for human-Klingon conception were against them and they knew that they didn't want to take the risk of not being able to conceive a child in the future.

"I'd almost forgotten what it meant to be safe," B'Elanna mused. "Somehow, we managed to make it out of every battle with nothing more than minor injuries. But others, like Joe Carey or Lyndsey Ballard, weren't so lucky." Her voice cracked slightly at the mention of two of their friends who hadn't made it home. Tom knew that B'Elanna still missed Joe Carey; over their seven years in the DQ, they had developed an excellent working relationship and a solid friendship. "We led a charmed life, Tom, and we have been so lucky."

Tom agreed. If he stopped long enough to think about it, it was a miracle that they had even survived their seven years in the Delta Quadrant. The Hirogen had nearly killed them all with their 'hunting' scenarios, the Borg had developed an unhealthy fascination with Voyager, the Kazon gave them a good run for their money, and Species 8472 had nearly brought them to their knees. In comparison, the Romulans seemed almost tame. Even so, Tom thought, it would be foolish to underestimate the strength of the Romulans.

B'Elanna held his hand, her fingers weaving in with his. "Tom, I'm scared." It was an uncommon sentiment for B'Elanna to utter; he hadn't seen her this vulnerable in years, not since they had first found out that she was pregnant with Miral.

"I know. I'm afraid too." Tom's hand tightened around B'Elanna's. It felt good to actually say the words out loud.

"I've been thinking about it for the last two days," she said. "About what would happen if my engineering team was chosen to go out there-"

"Shhh..." Tom pressed a finger to B'Elanna's lips, cutting her off. "Don't think about it." A defense mechanism, he knew. He had a sudden vision of Voyager under attack, of the wires and consoles sparking, of warp core overloads, of the messhall filled with casualties...

"I wish I could put it out of my mind," B'Elanna said, her voice sounding scratchy. "You know how the saying goes, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst?" She shook her head. "I never thought this hard about anything on Voyager. Things just *happened* and we didn't have time to think about what was going on. The anticipation of war is almost worse than a surprise attack. In a way, it's much more frightening than anything we've faced before."

"I know. I feel exactly the same way." When they were on Voyager, fear had meant nothing to any of them. Yes, there had been hard times, difficult situations, but somehow, they had managed to persevere. Perhaps it was because in the Delta Quadrant, they never had to think; they just had to do. The odds then were so overwhelmingly against them they never took anything for granted but here, in their new settled life in San Francisco, it was very different. Their security, the foundation of their life together, could very well be destroyed by a war.

"We're just going to have to take it one day at a time," Tom said quietly. "We both know that Janeway will do the best she can out there. And we just have to trust in her. Like we did on Voyager." He kissed B'Elanna's forehead lightly. "Come on, B'Elanna, it's late. Let's go to sleep."

She obliged, letting him pull her down next to him. Tom wrapped his arm around B'Elanna.

"Computer, turn off lights," Tom said. Despite his exhaustion, Tom found it difficult to fall asleep. He hadn't really considered the personal impact of the war on his family. Yes, he had heard the other pilots talking about it - some of them bragging what they would do to the Romulans if push came to shove - at the flight school, but Tom had paid little heed to what the actual consequences would mean. If there was a war, he had speculated that it would be far away and it wouldn't affect them. He sighed deeply, doing his best to push away his fears. He imagined that the Federation had probably given Janeway a lot of leeway to negotiate; no one wanted another war. After all, it had only been eight years since the devastation of the Dominion War.

In his restlessness, Tom grew acutely aware of the sounds in the room. The ticking of the chronometer, the faint hum of the air conditioning system. His gaze swept across the bedroom, finally settling on the most recent family portrait they had taken just a month ago. He was sitting, Miral leaning against his knee and B'Elanna was seated next to him, Joey in her lap. He stared at the portrait for so long, his vision blurred, and finally he looked down at B'Elanna. She had curled against him, her eyes closed. Carefully, Tom brushed hair away from her face and leaned down to kiss her. B'Elanna stirred.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep on you," she muttered, her eyes still closed.

Tom shifted his weight so that he could pull B'Elanna closer to him. The warmth of her body next to him comforted him, assured him that he was home. What was that ancient expression? Home was where the heart was?

"You've had a long day and it looks like you're going to have even longer ones in the next two weeks," Tom said, trying to inject some humor into his voice.

"You have to go to work tomorrow too," B'Elanna mumbled against his chest.

"Don't remind me," Tom groaned. He had nearly forgotten and truth be told, he really wasn't looking forward to working with the cocky, flamboyant cadets, not after spending the last week with recent Starfleet graduates. Not for the first time, it occurred to Tom that he was growing increasingly weary with his job as a flight instructor at the Academy. "You know, a life outside of Starfleet looks pretty appealing now. Maybe after all this war talk has died down, I can explore other options. Like holoprogramming."

B'Elanna lifted her head, looking slightly more awake. "You're not serious, are you? No, don't tell me. I can only handle one crisis a night."

Tom chuckled and pulled her close. "Don't worry, B'Elanna. I wasn't planning to make any major changes tomorrow. It's just something I've been thinking about." He sighed. "I imagine we're going to have to put a lot of things on hold for the time being until we know the situation for certain."

"I agree," B'Elanna said. She shifted slightly so that she was curled up against him. Tom pressed his lips against the top her head, breathing in the sweet smell of her shampoo. "I guess the important thing is to appreciate what we have here and now."

"Yes." Tom certainly didn't envy Kathryn Janeway at this moment. How many other people had dreams that would be shattered by yet another war? It was a heavy burden for one woman to carry it alone and Tom knew that Janeway would be well aware of the great responsibility she had been entrusted with. "I guess we'll have to take it one day at a time." He cleared his throat and pressed his lips to B'Elanna's ear. "You know, B'Elanna, you never said you missed me while I was gone."

"I didn't?" B'Elanna asked innocently.

"No." Tom put on his best 'injured' expression. "You act like I wasn't gone at all." He had tried that same act on B'Elanna after he, Tuvok and the EMH had been stranded for two months on a desert planet. After a little cajoling, she had admitted that even though only two days had passed for her, she had considered the possibility that they might not be able to find bring him and the others home. "Not even a little bit?"

"No, I missed you, Tom. I did. And I'm happy you decided to come home early." B'Elanna reached for him, her arms drawing him close. "My mistake for not saying so earlier." She pressed her lips to his throat before raising her head slightly. "Can I make it up to you?"

"An offer like that, how can I say no?"

~ the end ~

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